People wearing masks walk past the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral in Paris, France, Feb. 3, 2021. (Xinhua/Gao Jing)

COVID-19 collateral effects concern WHO despite “encouraging picture” in Europe

Citing statistics that COVID-19 is slowing in the European Region, Hans Kluge, Regional Director for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO), on Friday called for a “dual-track” approach by health authorities.

Globally, Europe currently accounts for 28 percent of new cases and 21 percent of new deaths, according to WHO.

“Now is the time to minimize the damage inflicted by severe disruption of health services, to counteract the collateral effects of COVID-19 while simultaneously keeping it under control,” Kluge said in a statement from the regional head office in Copenhagen.

According to the regional director, the numbers reveal “transmission in most of the Region has begun to slow” and decreased for a fifth week in a row while new deaths, “although still high”, declined for a third consecutive week.

Nevertheless, Kluge warned that despite an overall encouraging picture, improving epidemiology can prompt a sense of security that results in hasty decision-making that in turn leads to a resurgence of cases.

Alongside fighting the coronavirus, Kluge’s dual approach calls for authorities to “get back on track, strategize, and deliver health services beyond the COVID-19 response”.

In particular, Kluge mentioned the severe disruption of treatment to cancer patients, psychiatric patients and warned of another looming catastrophe related to rising resistance to antibiotics as citizens in some European countries abused the medication under the misconception that antibiotics prevent COVID-19.

While 40 countries in the WHO European Region have started vaccinating against COVID-19, Kluge used data, provided by 30 countries which revealed a mere 1.8 percent of their population had received a complete vaccine program, to show that vaccines, while important, were not solely responsible for the decreased transmission rates experienced in the region.

“Vaccines are certainly a game-changer, but since supply is limited, our most effective tools remain public health and social measures,” said Kluge.

As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in some countries with the already-authorized coronavirus vaccines.

Meanwhile, 250 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide — 69 of them in clinical trials — in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, according to information released by WHO on Tuesday.